The Interview is an exclusive part of Mindthis Sustainable Leadership Series which features cutting edge thought leadership from change makers across the world.
In this journey of meeting change makers across the world, I met Miloš Milisavljević who is the founder and chief executive of “Strawberry energy”. His startup of the smart and sustainable solar charging station has got many awards at international level. During our meeting in Tesla Global Forum, Serbia 2014, we exchanged our ideas and continue to do so in our effort to drive change. It is interesting to see that Milos draws his inspiration from Nikola Tesla, one of the pioneer innovators and the founding father of sustainability. Do catch up with rest of the interview to explore his idea of sustainable entrepreneurship.
Milos, I am amazed by your startup – how, on earth did you came up with this idea of Strawberry energy, can you shed some light on your journey of sustainable entrepreneurship?
My first contact with the concept of sustainable energy and renewable energy was while I was a high school student. I was fascinated and realized that it is going to be the future of humanity. At that time, only a few knew about it in Serbia. I started to give lectures about renewable energy in elementary schools, high schools, and after some time at the university. Through time, I realized that, if I want to pass the message to the wider public, I have to think of something new. Although I had had something really great to tell, people mostly weren’t interested. Then I got the idea! A great way to capture people’s attention is to help them with something. Everyone uses mobile phones, whether they are young or old, educated or uneducated, rich or poor.
Moreover, they use them mostly outside of their houses, so most likely their batteries sometimes discharge. We can use energy of the Sun, which is available everywhere, thereby helping people by recharging their portable devices. I thought of a device, which can be installed in public places like squares or parks, where people can sit and recharge their “digital life”. While they sit and recharge their phones or use free Wi-Fi internet installed in the solar charger, they will see the Sun and solar panels above their heads. This gives them feeling of what it means to use clean and free solar energy. It was a great educational tool, available to the wide public. I finished the concept of “the world’s first public solar charger,” gathered once again a few friends from college and explained them my idea. And we started.
As a startup based in Serbia, What sort of challenges did you faced and what sort of opportunities did you seized in this journey?
I started young and inexperienced, and that was hard. When we started to work, the first challenge was development of the Strawberry Tree and searching for ways to realize and install it in some city. It is not a secret that many people were not supportive and enthusiastic about the idea. Some of them thought that it was useless, and others considered impossible to realize it in our country, not even worth of trying. And it wasn’t easy. We needed two and a half years to make it happen. That is too much time of countless attempts and failures both technologically and administratively. It demanded a great deal of energy, enthusiasm, creativity, and persistence, for a long time. But we did it.
Another huge challenge was making a great team we have now. You need the best people you can find, smart, passionate, hardworking and most importantly with good character.
Can you share some statistics about how your startup has impact in terms of economic, environmental and social impact?
Of course. So far we installed 12 Strawberry Trees in 9 different cities. So far more than 350.000 people used Strawberry Trees, and for the majority of them that was the first time to use 100% clean energy in their life.
In terms of economic impact Strawberry Tree does not only saves energy, but it also create jobs locally, since in every city we have to train local people to do maintenance. Most important environmentally, it provides clean energy. It is 100% green. Finally, Tree is socially oriented as well. We are solving a fundamentally social problem: contemporary communication’s dependency on technology. Furthermore, the design itself fosters communication between users while recharging their respective devices and the smartphone app and the website take this one step further making it into a system that users return to.
Hence, it is perfectly suitable for urban redesign projects as well as an educational tool, bringing clean energy to the millions of people in our cities.
Our society in general faces many issues such as poverty, corruption, inflation in this case so what would be your opinion do we need more entrepreneurs or we need Sustainable entrepreneurs who have considerable social, environmental and economic impact?
Our civilization needs 100% of sustainable entrepreneurs. The type of entrepreneurs who are motivated to make the world better. Who are building companies and businesses with this as a core value in mind? The people who are destroying the planet just to make profit, I would not call them entrepreneurs.
Did Nikola Tesla played an important role to inspire you, Is there a secret connection between you and Nikola Tesla, I see that your visiting card bears a quote from Nikola Tesla and you even got the Tesla Silver Coin Award for your innovation?
Nikola Tesla was unique visionary with passion to invent things for the benefit of humanity. He served me as an inspiration since my early days. It seems to me that everywhere I go I am surrounded by Nikola Tesla. My high school for electrical engineering bears the name of Nikola Tesla. Largest monument of Nikola Tesla is in front of my electrical engineering university. Nikola Tesla wrote about potential of renewable energy 100 years ago, and we thought that it will be great to share that vision with our partners, so we put it on our business cards. Personally, I am honored to be recipient of Tesla Silver Coin Award, and I would say that it was joint effort of my whole team, since we worked really hard on promoting and educating people about these clean technologies for sustainable future.
How do you plan to expand Strawberry ahead? What is the road-map for next 5 to 10 years?
The world is changing, people are changing. Recent growth of smartphones and social media changed the way people interact with other people, as well as the space around us. Now cities have to adopt and improve. The main reason is that technology is advancing rapidly, and our cities are almost the same they were 20+ years ago. We want to use this clean technologies to improve everyday life in our cities. To do that, in the next 5 years our mission is to continue to develop green and smart urban devices to provide people with energy, connectivity and relevant local info in city’s public spaces.
Also we are very passionate about bringing these clean technologies to the rural parts of the world, without access to the electricity, and that will be one of our long term goals we plan to work on.
What would be the three key secrets you would like to share with those who want to venture out in the journey of Sustainable Entrepreneurship?
- Be crazy, because only people who are crazy enough to thing that they can change the world are the ones who actually do
- Be brave, because it will always be very hard
- Focus on future, because that is the only way we should create things, since we have to leave this planet to future generations.
About Miloš Milisavljević
Miloš is a founder and chief executive of “Strawberry energy” Company, responsible for everyday functioning, as well as for business strategy development of the company and its products.
He is a creator of the Strawberry Tree, and therefore participates in its development from the very beginning. Even as a child, he has shown great interest in technique and technology. After finishing primary school in Obrenovac, he enrolls at middle school of Electrical Engineering in Belgrade.
Afterwards he enrolls at Faculty of Electrical Engineering in Belgrade, where he currently is in the final year. Apart from a regular school, he was a member of the Center for young talents and Research station “Petnica” where he engaged in scientific and research work. It was then, when he began to interest in renewable sources of energy, believing they will be crucial for mankind future.
While still in middle school, Miloš discovered his passion for entrepreneurship, which made him founding “Student company” and applying at a competition in entrepreneurship, where he won and becomes Serbian champion in youth entrepreneurship. Since then, he continues to engage in entrepreneurship and establishes the company which will later grow into present Strawberry energy. In parallel, Miloš intensively works at entrepreneurship promotion between youth, by presenting and holding lectures about this issue throughout the country.
He spends his leisure time in nature, exploring new areas on foot, in search for beautiful viewpoints. He loves history, especially the period after industrial revolution, enjoys reading famous speeches which have marked their epoch.
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